Listen: Collett Smart chats to Katrina Roe about chores for the kids.
Children and teens may guilt-trip you for making them do chores—but housework is essential for their development, says family psychologist Collett Smart.
Chatting to Hope 103.2’s Katrina Roe, Collett said parents shouldn’t feel guilty about getting their children helping around the house. Research shows it will help them become well-balanced adults.
“There’s a lot of studies on this,” she said. “Some studies [have continued] more than 25 years, looking at children starting at age three or four, to predict how [chores] lead to later success in life.
“A lot of the studies are showing that after love, the most important thing [that leads to success] for our kids, is establishing a strong work ethic,” she said.
“When children do chores, they learn and realise that life is not just about ‘me and what I need in this moment’. They really develop a ‘pitch-in’ mindset: that stuff needs to be done, it’s up to me to do it, and I can’t sit around waiting for mum to be my servant.”
There are many benefits for kids who learn to do chores. They develop fine-motor-skills and gross-motor-skills when they are young, they will become better at contributing to their families, and develop better relationships with friends and family, as they contribute more. As adults they will also have stronger self discipline and the ability to endure delayed gratification, more empathy, and will be less selfish.
Eight Tips to Make Chore-Time Easier
To reduce the pain and complaints around chores, Collett recommends the following strategies.
- Get your children doing their jobs around the same time, so they don’t see their siblings relaxing while they are working. “The nag-factor diminishes for us when everyone’s doing their jobs at the same time.”
- Don’t link chores to a pocket-money reward. “Chores are part of living. We don’t get paid for doing the laundry or the cooking. It’s part of life. And our children need to learn, once they have their own families or go and live in shared communities, that’s what you do, you pitch in. The day-to-day stuff is just part of being in a family.”
- Don’t ‘fix’, ‘finish’ or re-do the jobs your children have just done. “If they get a sense that you will do it better, they will just give up halfway and think, ‘Oh well I’ll do a half-job and mum will fix it’. Either guide them in finishing the task, or be willing to accept a less-than-perfect job; they are children after all.”
- When your children complain and make you feel like a mean parent, remember that they’ll be thankful as adults that they learnt self-discipline. “Alleviate your guilt by reminding yourself you’re raising successful adults; that’s what’s important.”
- Know that it’s never too late to start getting your kids helping around the house. Even if they’re teenagers and have been lazy for years. “We often drop the ball with our eldest,” Collett says. “But I think it’s never too late, you can pick it up.”
- Create a system that balances jobs fairly between siblings, where everyone knows what each other is doing. It will reduce conflict and jealousy. In Collett’s home the system is a week-by-week roster, on a whiteboard. “I started doing daily chores that would rotate every day, but there was bickering and negotiating, about whose day was what. So now, for a whole week you have two or three set chores for that week.
- Have a chores routine. Whether it’s in the afternoons after school, or one hour on a Saturday morning, or something else, a regular routine and a deadline will help to prevent the painful dragging out of chores. “When my children come home, they sit at the bench top and eat. I have a no-phone rule for while they are eating, and then after their snack they go and do their chores. It has to be done by 4:30 and then they go off and do homework or sport.”
- Don’t be disappointed when they whinge. Children will invariably complain about chores—but Collett says that shouldn’t deter you. “If you’re expecting them to jump for joy, you’re fighting a losing battle. It’s really just about getting them to learn that in life there’s some stuff you just do because that’s part of living.”
About Collett Smart
Collett Smart is a consultant psychologist, qualified teacher, lecturer, author, wife and mother of three children. She writes on many issues affecting teenagers, at Familysmart.com.au.